GOP Lawmakers Ask HHS to Eliminate Abortion Charges

Letter asks HHS to finalize proposed rule on Obamacare exchanges

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith / Getty Images
July 3, 2019

More than 120 members of Congress are asking the Department of Health and Human Services to finalize a new rule that would prevent Obamacare providers from hiding surcharges for elective abortions covered by government health plans.

The letter, signed by 25 U.S. senators and 103 members of the House of Representatives, regards proposed changes to Section 1303 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The signees say the Obama administration violated the Hyde Amendment by using Obamacare to help cover elective abortions. Despite Section 1303 already requiring abortion coverage funds to be separated in an isolated account, the HHS has kept both abortion and non-abortion funds together, which hides the exact abortion surcharge in health care plans.

"In an exercise of executive overreach, the Obama administration undermined Section 1303 by interpreting 'separate' to mean 'together'" the letter says. "This misinterpretation of the law created a hidden abortion surcharge in many health care plans on exchanges throughout the nation, requiring enrollees to—in some cases unknowingly—subsidize elective abortion."

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would ensure that people enrolled in health plans that cover abortions will receive itemized notices. If approved, the proposed rule would ensure the HHS is acting in compliance with the separation of funds.

"While this requirement does not change the fact that the ACA violates the precedent of the long-standing Hyde Amendment through its involvement of tax dollars in subsidies to abortion-covering plans, it is an important step in providing transparency and awareness for enrollees," the letter says.

The new rule was originally proposed in November. Rep. Michael Cloud (R,. TX) and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R,. MS) led the 128 members of Congress who sent the letter to the HHS Monday in an attempt to speed up the process of finalizing the rule.

Abortion advocates argue that abortion should be considered an essential aspect of health care, making the proposed HHS rule a limitation on Obamacare coverage.

"NARAL Pro-Choice America strongly believes all insurance plans should cover all basic health services, including birth control, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care," the organization stated. "That is why we strongly oppose the Department of Health and Human Services' proposed rule, which is an attempt to eliminate insurance coverage of abortion in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces."

Pro-life groups have fought against abortion coverage under Obamacare since its enactment in 2010. Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser called Obamacare "the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand" since the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973.

"The sooner the rule restoring the original intent of the law is finalized, the fewer excuses insurers will have for noncompliance," she said, referring to the proposed HHS rule. "Consumers deserve transparent information about the hidden abortion surcharge and the opportunity to avoid plans that cover abortion during the 2020 open enrollment period."

The agency is in the midst of reviewing more than 75,000 public comments filed in connection to the rule before it makes any decision on finalizing the proposal.